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Eye on Education: Empathy in Action

Once a week, the Lethbridge Herald publishes a column written by a superintendent of one of five school jurisdictions in the Lethbridge area. This week’s column is authored by our Westwind superintendent, Darren Mazutinec. 

As a vice-principal, I remember attending a professional development event where Michelle Borba, a renowned educational psychologist and best settling author, was the keynote speaker. Her presentation and life work have focused on empathy and the moral imperative that we have to teach, model, and develop and nurture this character trait in our children. 

Early in her latest book “UnSelfie,” Borba shares a quote from an early American naturalist and philosopher Henry David Thoreau, who says, “could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” This simple yet profound thought is empathy in action. 

Last week I had the opportunity to meet with a senior high student council presidency from one of our large high schools. This meeting was informal and was simply to brainstorm and learn about a proposed grade twelve activity. The more significant and more lasting impact of the meeting was how I felt after the visit ended. The resilience, commitment to friends, and obedience to AHS directives that these three fine young adults demonstrated impacted me. This leadership team voiced a love for being in school, the roles and importance of their teachers, and their fear of going back to online/at-home learning. As the meeting ended, I reflected on this student council presidency’s characteristics, and one defining word came to mind. Kindness. This is a kind group of student leaders who genuinely care about their friends, classmates, and school. 

Kindness is needed now more than ever. My visit with these three grade twelve students saw the students become the Superintendent’s teacher on the impact of kindness and showing empathy to others. I appreciated this refresher lesson immensely. 

Aesop, the Greek storyteller, captures kindness brilliantly when he says “no act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” Teachers and parents, we have an expected partnership to help develop kindness and empathy in your children and our students. Simple actions such as smiles, thank-you’s, nodding, saying hello, inviting others to sit and visit, refraining from posting mean-spirited and incendiary thoughts that we would never say in person, and holding a door open may seem minor. Still, science proves they can have a significant impact. Borba references studies that have resulted in better overall health and reduced anxiety by doing simple kind actions repeatedly.

Let’s continue our partnership, parents and schools, always to model kindness and happiness for our children with the expectation they do the same to their neighbours, peers, and associates. Living in a kind and positive world is a lot more enjoyable than living in one constantly filled with unkindness and negativity.

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